Things used to freak me out a lot. I’m a person with a short fuse, descended from a long line of people with short fuses, and when I ran into a setback or some other form of adversity, I could lose my temper fast. I would get angry, and most people didn’t like me when I was angry. If I wasn’t getting angry, I was otherwise pushing the “panic” button.
I find that, these days, I’m seldom like that. I can’t even remember the last time I got angry or upset. The biggest reason for the change is that I’ve learned peace.
Joy is a Christian virtue that I find especially difficult. When life is going well, you don’t need to be told to have it. When life isn’t going well, having it is nearly impossible.
The Bible tells us otherwise. It tells us to be joyful, even in tribulation (James 1:2-4). Gotta admit, still getting there.
What I do know is that, when I look back over my life at the times when I have been most filled with joy, I see that those moments occurred after painful trials. Moments like:
When I was accepted to my undergraduate school, having been rejected the first time I applied and having spent the previous six months trying to improve my high school résumé for the re-application.
When my son was born after an emotionally difficult pregnancy, and after 8 hours of laboring without pain medication.
When I finished my master’s degree in spite of my ex-husband’s abandonment.
I may not have always had joy while these things were going on, but once I overcame them, the joy I experienced was nearly overwhelming. I’m not sure this would have been the case without the preceding experience of pain.
The victory and promise of Jesus is that his people can and will, someday, overcome all things. Even death.
Everyone has been saying that 2016 has been “the worst.” For me, it’s actually been a really good year. These were the ups and downs of my year:
Completed and Defended Master’s Thesis – I turned in my master’s thesis for defense on March 16th, successfully defended it on April 15th, and submitted the final copy for ProQuest publication in early May. The thesis was called, As God is, Woman May Become?: Women and the Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation, and I was very blessed to have LDS feminist scholar Maxine Hanks serving as an outside reader on my defense committee. I had been working on my thesis off and on for years, so it was a amazing to finally get it done.
Septorhinoplasty – Yup, that’s right, I got a nose job. (more…)
I had thought that by my current age, I would have a husband, three healthy children, a PhD, a house, a growing list of publications, and a career that I was proud of.
I don’t. I have a divorce decree, two disabled children, a master’s degree that took me 7 years to finish, a tiny apartment I can barely afford, a small list of publications, and a job that could be much better.
I was scheduled for a job interview for a promotion last week. I was practically walking on air all week prior. I did not have the job, but I had the hope of having the job in the very near future. Hope is a powerful thing.
The interview was scheduled for tomorrow. They called me late on Wednesday afternoon, just before the holiday, and cancelled it. (It wasn’t anything that I did, it appears they decided not to create the position after all.)
I’m still a lucky woman. I had a great weekend. I went shopping with my kids, ate out several times, went bowling, and saw an amazing movie (Arrival—no seriously, it’s amazing, go see it). I had Thanksgiving with my kids, decorated the tree, and got to hear my autistic son yell, “Look at that!” for the first time ever. It wasn’t so long ago that I never would have spent a weekend like this.
It was only 3.5 years ago that I had no job, my then-husband was spending all of his time with another woman, I was pregnant and had no idea how I was ever going to take care of two kids alone, and my credit wasn’t good enough to get even a tiny apartment by myself. I wasn’t thinking of publications and didn’t believe I was ever going to finish my master’s degree. Hope found a way.
And while I mourn for my children’s struggles, I know it could be worse. I thank God they are a least physically healthy. They are beautiful and loving and like to run up to me and yell “CUDDLE PARTY!” I have great kids.
The first Sunday of Advent is the time to reflect on hope. I have a lot of it.
“So, we’ve decided that your son isn’t a good fit for our program.”
I froze in disbelief. A knot formed in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes.
She continued. “You should really have him evaluated for special needs. Has no one told you that before?”
I shook my head. She wasn’t mean about it, and she showed concern for my distress, but she was firm that their daycare was not the right program for my son.
It was only his second day with this new provider, and this was the second time in less than 2.5 months that my son had been abruptly dismissed from a daycare program without warning. It was the fourth time in that same time period that a childcare provider had bailed on my son.
In college I was intense. I don’t believe I ever took less than 16 credits, and usually took closer to 18. I was enrolled in three foreign languages at once, an officer in several clubs, and an enthusiastic participant in martial arts, self-defense, flexibility, and dance classes. I played guitar (though probably not very well) and sang in my church’s choir. I was as close to a Renaissance woman as I was ever going to be. The worst grade I got in anything was a B-; I had a 4.0 GPA or nearly a 4.0 GPA on a number of semesters. I had not started school with any academic scholarships, but began receiving them every year after my first full year at BYU.
Two things happened in 2003. I got married, and I decided to cram in a second minor in history in preparation for pursuing an American history master’s degree. It was too late to switch my major or add a second major and still graduate by 2005, but the minor would be enough to curry favor with graduate schools and show that I was serious about history.
My marriage became my undoing. I don’t want to go into all of the reasons why; let’s just say that duties and responsibilities that are supposed to be jointly shared within a marriage fell heavily and disproportionately on me. There was very little partnership. Instead, I found myself almost exclusively responsible for the well-being of two adult lives instead of one, to my exhaustion. Things got worse when my then-husband suddenly asked for a divorce in 2004, less than a year after our wedding. There had been no warning, and he did not want to even try to do therapy or work things out. He told me I was such a horrible person that I didn’t deserve any kind of a second chance with him, that he just wanted out of the marriage and away from me as soon as possible. Though we eventually reconciled, his gaslighting had an immeasurable impact on my psyche. I spent years walking on eggshells, believing that I had done something mysterious and terrible to drive him away in 2004. After our divorce in 2014, my former college roommates approached me to say he had been cheating on me shortly after we got married and they hadn’t known how to break it to me. The sudden and earnest request for divorce back in 2004 suddenly made sense. I believe he only reconciled with me because the Other Woman broke up with him.
With all of this going on, I finally lost my intensity. For the first time since high school, I began failing classes. (more…)
Last Friday I recorded a podcast on the theology of hope with Dan Wotherspoon for Mormon Matters (available now). The other guests were Brian Hauglid of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and Patrick Q. Mason of Claremont. Though the podcast was by Mormons for Mormons, I had a lot to say about traditional Christian views on hope and eschatology.
Dan asked us at the end of the podcast if we could answer the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and “give a reason for the hope that is within [us].” I have given a personal testimony here, but I wanted to repeat here what I said on the podcast:
My daughter was born in 2006 at the end of a healthy pregnancy in which I’d had every reason to expect a healthy baby. As I looked down at her resting in my arms for the first time, a horrible thought came into my head. I felt like I was being silly, but in that moment my fear and dread were all-consuming. I had to say it. “Does my baby have a cleft palate?”
The doctor and the nurse exchanged confused glances and looked at me like I was CrazyMom. I thrust my daughter back at them, made the nurse take her to check her palate. I’m sure she was expecting to say, “No, CrazyMom, your baby does not have a cleft palate. Please stop acting crazy now.” Instead, she called out, “Actually, doctor, can you come and take a look at this? I think there’s something here…”
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34 NIV
“Even though [women] grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” – Martin Luther 
Those were just some of the words about women blinking at me from my computer screen that day. I was 16 years old and arguing with a skeptical friend. He had sent me a list of negative quotes about women from the Bible and famous Christian theologians, and I felt horrified.
I’m not sure you could say I was any kind of a feminist at the time, at least not an intentional one. I had always been taught that I could be anything and do anything, that my gender was no hindrance to dreams, but that attitude within me was void and without form. I had been wild-hearted and tomboyish in my Alaskan childhood, had played on the edges of the wilderness with three brothers before I had a sister, had shot BB guns and pretended I was a Ninja Turtle and done just about every stupid thing that adults told me not to do, for the sake of being contrary and adventurous. The self-selected nickname I had begun sporting in my 16th year, “Jack,” flaunted my disregard for gender norms. “Is ‘Jack’ short for anything?” people would ask me uncomfortably, hoping to learn my real name was “Jacquelyn.” “Yes, it’s short for ‘Bridget,'” I would quip.
The ordination of women had never come up in the two denominations I had attended with regularity (Church of the Nazarene and Presbyterian Church USA) since youth. Those churches had no female pastors, although I had noticed female elders and deacons at the PCUSA. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis had articulated a hierarchical view of marriage that I accepted at the time, as much out of love for Lewis as anything, but it didn’t affect me because I wasn’t married and wouldn’t be getting married anytime soon, so I gave the matter little thought.
And then I had these words blinking at me from my computer screen. Horrible words about women in my own Bible and from Christian leaders I was supposed to revere. I didn’t know who God was anymore.
I went and spoke to Bro. Fluhman today, and not only was he enormously helpful, but I enjoyed the conversation and I was very impressed by him. . . . He also talked to me about doing American Religious History for my master’s. The thought had honestly never occurred to me. But I will keep it in mind.
— Journal entry, Thursday, 20 February 2003
I did my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University, a college that was (and probably still is) 98.6% Mormon. In my time at BYU, two things happened to bring me to where I am today:
Some students from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School visited the university, and it was wonderful. I got to spend the week hanging out with them, going to church with them, taking them to classes with me, and engaging in dialogue and discussion with them. They made me realize how lonely BYU had been for me, and how much I longed to really grow roots in my own faith.
I had a conversation with Spencer J. Fluhman, then a professor in the religion department at BYU who was finishing his PhD in history. It was him who put the idea in my head of switching from classics to America religious history.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, for reasons I have discussed elsewhere, but it finally happened. Last week, my thesis (“As God Is, Woman May Become?: Women and the Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation”) was accepted for ProQuest publication. Maxine Hanks, who edited the first feminist book I ever picked up, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, served as my external reader on my thesis committee and gave me invaluable guidance. Commencement took place on Friday. I am now the proud owner of an MA in “History of Christianity in America”  from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
It’s been a long road. The “me” who first met up with those TEDS students and chatted with Brother Fluhman in his office never dreamed of what the future would hold: marrying a Mormon, a disabled child, dropping out of the MA — American History program at the University of Utah, being abandoned while pregnant, divorce, and becoming a single parent to a disabled older child and a baby. I never would have started the degree at TEDS under those circumstances.
But with the help of God and a lot of loving, supportive people in my life, I finally finished it.